Church Leaders Buying out Theaters for Screenings of ‘Son of God’ movie
By Boaz Wadel
American church groups are seeking to "take over" entire theaters for screenings of "Son of God," the upcoming movie from 20th Century Fox, about the life of Jesus Christ, and based on the hit "Bible" miniseries..
According to Hilary Lewis, writing in theHollywood Reporter, "Various religious organizations throughout the country have been buying out screens and distributing tickets to groups of thousands of people for 'Theater Take-Overs' on Thursday, Feb. 27, the night before the film's officially released, according to production company Lightworkers Media."
The story went on to say that Crossroads Church in Cincinnati is bringing thousands of people to a Cinemark theater, where "Son of God" will be showing on 13 screens at the same time.
"Our church bought out every screen in the theater," Crossroads' Brian Wells said in a statement. "If anyone comes to the theater to see another movie that night, they'll be out of luck, unless we have a few extra tickets to give them!"
There are a few other theater buyouts for "Son of God" scheduled at Cinemark locations throughout the country, according to the theater chain's marketing and communications head James Meredith.
"It's very interesting to see this level of excitement around the movie," Meredith said. "The interest level for meetings, events, screenings and buyouts seems to be on par with that of major blockbuster, tentpole or franchise movies."
Mega-church pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, is buying out screens in eight different theaters throughout Orange County.
"I've seen most of the films about Jesus produced in the past 50 years, and 'Son of God' is the best," Warren said. "We're excited Jesus is back on the big screen, and we're going to fill the theaters. I want every other faith leader in America to do the same. Whether you can buy out a whole theater, or just one screen, now is the time to show up. This is a rare opportunity to bring the story of Christ into our mainstream culture.
"We want to see Jesus in movie theaters where sight and sound can open up our senses and let grace come in. The message of the Gospel deserves to be on the big screen - and this is our chance to see it there."
Besides supporting the film, Warren is also partnering with LifeWay Christians Resources to release a Bible study for movie.
The small group curriculum resource by Warren is said to be the "perfect companion" to "Son of God," produced by husband-and-wife team Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. The study will be available Feb. 15, two weeks before the movie hits theaters Feb. 28.
"Son of God: The Life of Jesus in You" is a DVD small group Bible study, which features Warren explaining how you can find your purpose in studying the life of Jesus, and is available at LifeWay Stores and www.lifeway.com/n/Product-Family/Son-of-God.
"There's nothing more important you can do with your life than spending time getting to know Jesus," said Warren. "Through the Son of God study, people will receive practical teaching on the life of Jesus and its impact on individual lives and life purpose. Jesus' teaching transforms from the inside out."
The six-session study features video clips from the theatrical movie and custom videos from Pastor Warren explaining Jesus' teachings and their impact on people's lives. Topics include baptism, temptation, suffering, death, resurrection and ministry. Scenes from the movie such as Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist will help illustrate each topic.
Other churches and organizations, ranging in size from 10,000 to 4 million, are distributing tickets for a "Theater Take-Over." Some pastors will also buy out screens showing the film in Spanish and Korean. There's even a Catholic "Theater Take-Over" planned for Miami.
The Hollywood Reporter story also stated that various business leaders throughout the country are also donating tickets to churches and non-profits.
"Son of God" is a version of the hit "The Bible" miniseries, featuring new and used footage, focused just on the story of Jesus Christ. The Bible averaged 11.4 million viewers during its five-week run on the History Channel and became the top-selling miniseries on DVD of all time.
Roma Downey talking on a video about the movie as her husband, Mark Burnett, looks on
Mark Burnett and wife Roma Downey, said in a statement, "We're very excited that the community is mobilizing to support 'Son of God.' The grass roots support is so important and the faith community is amazing when it mobilizes. Our hope is that the story and message of Jesus Christ will reach tens of millions of people nationwide."
Burnett and Downey promoted the film at last week's National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, where President Obama spoke to an audience of religious and secular leaders from around the world.
"We are going to spend around $10 million on commercials, and that is nothing. You may not even see a commercial for this. ... The only chance we've got is the church community spreading the word," Burnett said at the prayer breakfast, where 30 minutes of the film was shown to the audience. "We carried the backpack so far. We made it; we unbelievably got it in theaters everywhere. It's now a great time for people to bring groups and bring people with them who need this message, who need to know who Jesus is."
London-born Burnett and Downey, who hails originally from the Bogside in Derry, Northern Ireland, involved key Christian figures in the production of the film, including Warren and Hispanic Evangelical Alliance president Rev. Sam Rodriguez.
Mark Burnett, Dan Wooding, and Roma Downey,
In a recent interview, I was able to talk to this extraordinary couple about the movie at a pre-release screening at the Dream Center Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, California.
I asked Roma, how they came to produce "The Bible" miniseries and now "Son of God?"
"For ten years, I played an angel on 'Touched by an Angel,' and the premise of that show, at its simplest, was that there is a God and that He loves you and that He wants to be part of your life," she replied. "It was a privilege for me to be playing the angel -- to be messenger -- and delivering that message every week. And so, when that show came off the air, I was wondering how I would be called again and what I might do next.
"And Mark and I felt this whispering in our hearts to bring to the screen the stories of our Bible and over a cup of tea, where all the best decisions are made, we decided that we would that we would produce together the series on the Bible.
"I'm gentle by nature and I might still be there politely knocking on doors if it had been left to me to just try to sell that concept to a network. However, my husband, on the other hand, is a former military man and is much feistier by nature. So while I would be politely knocking on the doors, he was right next to me kicking the doors down, and we eventually we got a deal with the History Network and we aired the Bible miniseries this past year in the United States and it drew in, by the time it finished, about a hundred-million people who watched it in the United States alone.
"And it's since gone to air around the world making ripples and really touching people's hearts. It's been wonderful."
Mark, a wildly successful British-American television producer, now based in Los Angeles, and the visionary behind "Survivor," "The Voice," "The Bible," and "Shark Tank," then chipped in, and siaid, "We are Christians and it was a calling and we felt that our job was to use our enormous secular success on television and in the entertainment industry, to get the Bible series made."
So how did the "Son of God" come about?
"While shooting the Jesus portion, we realized that this really needed to be a big feature film," said Mark. "So we started overshooting and planning for this film which comes out February 28th and is a two hour movie on the life of Jesus which is made in a very fantastic way; very gripping, very dramatic.
"We remembered that the disciples at that time didn't know they were in the Bible. They were a bunch of tough guys following a charismatic leader who later is revealed to be the Son of God. Imagine the fear they were going through when they discovered this and imagine the Romans hunting them down and the temple authorities trying to get rid of them.
"This was a very tense time and the only person who knew what was happening was Jesus. He led them into Jerusalem and soon they were so frightened and, of course, He knew He was going to his death. The movie takes you from after the crucifixion through to the resurrection, and then to the ascension, and the great commission."
I then raised the topic of the violence that was so graphically portrayed in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," and wondered how they had dealt with His terrible suffering in the streets of Jerusalem and then on the cross at Calvary, in their new movie.
Roma said that they were, of course, deeply aware of Christ's anguishes, but added, "We wanted families to be able to experience the movie together and so we worked with the ratings guys to ensure that we got a PG13 rating for the film.
"The crucifixion is hard to watch. It was a brutal way to die, but our movie moves through that and into the hope and promise of the resurrection through to the ascension and the great commission and it's really beautiful.
"I think you know that Jesus has not been on the big screen for ten years, when 'The Passion of the Christ' came out and we believe that there's a whole new generation of young people that will be inspired by seeing this film. We've tried to present it in a way that emotionally engages an audience.
"We cast a beautiful and extraordinary Portuguese actor called Diogo Morgado and he gives an amazing performance and gives us the qualities of strength, kindness, and compassion. He's an actor who plays the lion and the lamb and when you see this, you're reminded of what an extraordinary love story this is."
Roma added, "The movie actually begins on the Island of Patmos [a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea] and is told through the memory of the disciple John who is there living in exile and he's remembering how extraordinary Jesus was, and is, and how his life was changed and so through his eyes we go back and it then begins at the nativity."
Mark then told me, "This is a very dramatic film. This is not your old 1960s donkeys and sandals story, but this is something for young people. This is a 2014 movie and it looks like it with big special effects. This is a story that can really affect the world in getting to know and love Jesus."
Roma Downey in a dramatic scene
Roma played Mary, the mother of Jesus in the film, and Mark said, "There was such a connection between Diogo Morgado the Portuguese actor who plays Jesus, and Roma as Mary. It was so emotional to see the pain of the mother who knows who Jesus is. Gabriel had told her that she was to be the mother of Jesus, and she knows exactly who Jesus is she, but she also knows this must happen.
"But it's still her son she doesn't feel any better about it. So this is a very emotionally connective film, wrapped in a drama, because it was a dramatic time in that first century Jerusalem. And this also is a movie that young people will be talking about for decades as for many of them, this will be the first time they get to really understand who Jesus is."
I then shared with the couple that I had recently released a novel called "Mary, My Story from Bethlehem to Calvary" - www.marythebook.com - which tells the story of Jesus through the eyes of his beloved mother - and so I asked Roma what it was like playing Mary.
"It was such a privilege to step into that role," she said. "I can't begin to imagine what she must have been feeling on that Jerusalem road when she witnessed Jesus falling with the cross, and then standing at the foot of the cross. I know that, while she was the mother of the Son of God, she was also the mother of a son and so I tried as an actor to bring a mother's heart to the role.
"I'm a mother myself and to try to feel those scenes through a mother's heart was to see those scenes was extraordinary. It was a great privilege and was one of the most moving and profound roles I will ever play."
I then asked the actress if she felt that Mary ever understand why she had been chosen for this role in life?
"I don't know that she understood why, but she's a great teacher for all of us because she said 'yes' and the Holy Spirit came into her. She had such trust and she showed it every day. What we can learn from her is that we need to step out in faith each day and also say 'yes' to God."
Mark then said, "We encourage everybody to go the movie as I believe it is a game changer for the next couple of decades on spreading the word of Jesus."